How often to you hear statements like these:
“They can’t be getting any work done over there, they’re always laughing.”
“We don’t have time for play right now, we’ve got work to do!”
“They’re having just too much fun.”
Tell me, how can anyone have too much fun? And personally, I don’t see all that many people having much fun at all anymore, especially in the work environment. But of course not. Why should they? We all know that having fun just doesn’t mesh with getting work done. Now most of us see the fallacy in this statement, yet it is still firmly entrenched in the fabric of our culture. Is it not?
Most of us know that lightheartedness, playfulness, and laughter makes us feel more creative and enthusiastic. We also know that creativity and enthusiasm are qualities highly treasured in progressive workplaces. Perhaps progressive is the key word here. So let’s be progressive. Let’s look at how humor and play are good for our success in work groups.
Elevate Your Meetings With Humor
Using Humor With Groups. The following tips on the use of humor in groups were adapted from a book by the 3M Meeting Management Team, Mastering Meetings: Discovering the Hidden Potential of Effective Business Meetings.
When all else fails, lighten up. Injecting a little humor may be all that’s needed to lift a group out of a rut when they get stuck, help put them at ease in times of stress, make bad news easier to accept, or to introduce a sensitive subject. Here’s an example:
Shortly after the breakup of AT&T, the company fielded questions about the consequences of reorganization. A frequent hostile question from the audiences was, “Why are long-distance rates going up?” One speaker gave this reply: “It’s sort of a good news-bad news situation. It’s true that long-distance rates are going up–that’s the bad news. The good news is, the continents are drifting closer together.”
Get them laughing to speed up their process. Humor is avoided in your typical business meetings because many managers believe that it simply wastes time. Humor consultant, Malcolm Kushner suggests the opposite. “The real objective of meetings is to exchange information or solve a problem. If humor contributes to a free flow of information, then it can actually speed things up.”
Humor is a rich source of productivity. Studies have shown that people with a sense of humor “tend to be more creative, less rigid, and more willing to consider and embrace new ideas,” says Kushner. Think about it. Humor occurs naturally during brainstorming sessions. Brainstorming and problem-solving “require a fresh perspective, looking at things from an offbeat angle. So does humor.”
You don’t have to leave them in stitches. According to Michael Iapoce, another humor consultant, you don’t have to be a comedian to use humor in meetings and groups. “Only professional comics need to get big laughs. If you can get people in a meeting to chuckle, they’re grateful. And if your joke or one-liner doesn’t get a laugh, just ignore it.”
Make it relevant. Your humor should be relevant to the situation at hand. Telling a joke or funny story just to get a laugh isn’t usually in the best interest of the group. Here’s an example: When David Kearns, then Chairman and CEO of Xerox Corporation, spoke at a management conference at the University of Chicago in 1986, he began this way:
There’s a story about a Frenchman, a Japanese, and an American who face a firing squad. Each gets one last request. The Frenchman asks to hear The Marseillaise. The Japanese asks to give a lecture on the art of management. The American says, “Shoot me first–I can’t stand one more lecture on Japanese management.”
Kearns went on to say he was not going to speak about Japanese management, but about what Japan might learn from America.
Keep it tasteful. Of course you must refrain from any humor that might in the slightest way be offensive to your particular audience. “Sometimes people are not sure whether a joke is appropriate for a certain group, but they tell it anyway,” says Krushner. “That’s like saying, ‘I’m not sure if this gun is loaded, but I’ll fire it anyway,” Rule of thumb: When in doubt, leave it out.
Know your audience. Different groups may respond to various types of humor in radically different ways. It’s important that you know enough about your groups so that you can be sensitive to how they may respond to the content of your humor. One 3M manager recalls the following disaster:
I spent a great deal of my career in Minnesota and surrounding areas, and people would pick up the Texas inflection in my voice. When I was doing a speech to any large group I could make a joke about Texans or Texas accents as a little opener to warm up, give them a feel for my personality, and a little bit of my background. And it always went really well. I made a speech in Dallas once to about 600 people with the same opening, and I died. I could not recover….That was one of those things you have to learn the hard way.
Wear your personality inside out. In closing, I wanted to share that in my own humble experience, I’ve often inspired the greatest laughter when I least expected it. On these occasions, I believe the secret was that I was just being myself and sharing what I was thinking or feeling in the moment. Authenticity not only brings freshness and lightness to your groups, it can also bring a great deal of humor as well.
Pick a humor tip or two to try out with your groups or in your meetings this week. Let us know how it turns out. And, if you have any stories related to the use of humor in facilitation or in your work that might interest our readers, please post them as well. We’d love to hear from you! Just share your questions, feedback, or experience on this topic below.